Please excuse me if I am distrustful of just about everything said and done by China’s government.
Having lived in China, watched China through my own media mesmerized eyes, and witnessed China’s government actions and reactions through Chinese business associates and friends, I have come to be distrustful of just about everything said and done by China’s government.
It is almost as if the Chinese government has been across the table from me for 30 years as we played poker. You get to know intuitively when the adversary is bluffing, lying, admitting, or avoiding.
In 2003, China faced an epidemic of a disease called Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). As the story broke that the disease was reaching epidemic proportions in Vietnam and Singapore and other Asian venues, China didn’t make a sound.
I was on the edge of my seat nonetheless. I had a Chinese-born American employee traveling and doing business in China. I was worried for his safety and alerted him that there may be some disease spreading, unbeknownst to us, inside China.
Sure enough, before too many days, news reports began to come out of China that it, too, was experiencing SARS but that the problem was being competently managed. I knew that had to be a lie. Vietnam and Singapore had noticed the outbreak more than two weeks before, and recovery had been tough and troubling.
China then announced that the problem was worse than at first thought and the government launched a huge show of activity to demonstrate how hard they were working to stamp out the disease. Near the end of the crisis (and it was a crisis: hundreds if not thousands died in China) China began to escort news people around hospitals and other facilities to demonstrate the professionalism and medical readiness of China’s system.
It was then that I realized the government of China responded the same way to every crisis.
In Phase One, China covered up the problem and denied it existed. The disease persisted and worsened. Phase Two was a flurry of activity to impress the international community that China was on top of the situation. Most of this was for show and didn’t contribute a thing toward ending the epidemic. During this phase other nations like Vietnam and Singapore, that had admitted the problem as soon as it was discovered, eradicated the disease. Finally, China launched Phase Three: a show and charm offensive to convince the world that it did a great job solving the problem.
I documented my conclusions in a Washington Times commentary under the headline “China’s Ham-Handed SARS Response: Omen of The Future In Disease Control?”
During the SARS emergency, the international media found out, for the first time, that China lacked sufficient medications, medical staff and hospital facilities to properly service its own population. Like many other things in China, the medical system was mostly a sham.
After graduating from medical school, the most well educated medical professionals in China went to the west to work. The World Health Organization estimated that only about 4% of China’s medical professionals were prepared for a disease like SARS. And the medical staff was severely undermanned.
Today, according to China’s own Ministry of Health (MOH), “In most countries, the ratio of the number of nurses to the total population is about 0.5 percent, but the ratio in China is only 0.1 percent.”
Recall the Bird Flu crisis? Phases One, Two and Three were used again. It seemed to me that there was a certain necessity to this for the Chinese leadership. When you have 1.3 billion people you can’t have a complicated play book. And forget about innovation. When an American football quarterback would call an audible for perfectly valid reasons; China has to stick to a playbook that is simple and rehearsed. In many troubling situations, the only question China’s government leaders face is, “What Phase do you think we are in?”
In the food and product safety scandal that started in China this past spring, China was so taken by surprise that the government launched Phase Three without going through phases one and two. Despite plenty of signs that the tainted food (pet food, seafood, etc) and personal care items (cough syrup, toothpaste,etc) scandal was a big one, and still growing, on June 12, 2007, the deputy chief of mission of the Chinese Embassy in Washington D.C., Mr. Zheng Zeguang, held a mini-news conference with reporters.
The esteemed deputy chief of mission lied to reporters about food and product safety. He said American reporters had grossly exaggerated the issue.
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